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Sudanese journalists detained at censorship protest
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Nov 17, 2008 - 7:01:20 AM

Sudanese journalists detained at censorship protest

Mon 17 Nov 2008, 13:21 GMT

By Andrew Heavens

OMDURMAN, Sudan (Reuters) - More than 60 Sudanese journalists and newspaper staff were detained on Monday at a rare public protest against media censorship.

A Reuters witness saw riot police armed with canes and shields round up protesters as they stood opposite Sudan's parliament buildings holding banners with the message "We need our rights".

Police said 63 people were detained.

Freedom of the press was guaranteed in Sudan in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, but this year newspapers have been repeatedly subject to the seizure of editions and other harassment.

Less public anti-censorship protests including hunger strikes, sit-ins and voluntary shut-downs have been going on for several weeks.

Monday's protesters were herded into a cage on the back of a police truck and driven off at around 12:30 p.m. (0930 GMT), two hours after arriving at the parliament in Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum.

They were driven to a police station in the area, where other journalists, members of parliament and human rights campaigners gathered in a show of support.

Those arrested included well-known columnists and senior editorial staff from nine Sudanese newspapers, according to reporters who were not detained during the protest.

"This has never happened before. They have never arrested so many journalists. There is no freedom in Sudan," said Abdel Moneim Suleiman, a member of the board of the newspaper Ajras al-Huriya.

"The protesters were not there to fight. They were not armed. They just wanted to tell the public that there is no freedom."

A witness at the scene said the police released the 25 women they had detained after a few hours.

Yasir Arman, a leading member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the dominant party in south Sudan and part of Sudan's coalition government, condemned the arrests as a "barbaric act" and a "clear violation of the peace agreement and the constitution".

No one was immediately available to comment on the arrests from Sudan's police or Ministry of Information.

Sudanese newspapers say they receive nightly visits from security officers who read through the next day's edition and instruct editors to remove sensitive articles.

Reporters and human rights activists say the current crackdown started in February after newspapers published reports accusing the government of having backed rebels who mounted a coup attempt in neighbouring Chad. The government denies the accusation.

Sudanese reporters at the scene said the protest had been organised by the recently formed Sudan Journalists' Network, set up to campaign against censorship and for a new media law to guarantee press freedom.

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